I recently posed a simple question to The Hardball Times’ staff: Should Manny Ramirez be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame? Not will he be, but should he be? The two questions are quite different.
This inquiry led to some, shall we say, lively discussion on our private mailing list. Opinions spanned the gamut, though one side was in the clear majority.
Below, Vince Caramela provides an insightful review of the lead-up to the Ramirez question, which is then followed by opinions on Manny’s Hall of Fame candidacy from a number of THT’s contributors.
Sometimes when events are too recent it becomes hard to come to an honest conclusion.
Baseball is a very patriarchal sport, forever measured by the ghosts of the past. Like a family, it’s a body of individuals kept in line by the old man, but if you wait your turn and say the right things, then maybe you’ll get the same respect and treatment.
However, we live in a time dependent upon technology and innovation, and when those innovations are chemical, we as a society can be both accepting and suspicious at the same time.
When Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa took America by storm in that one magical summer of ‘98, steroid use was always seen as a possibility. As sports fans, we all remember the alarming Lyle Alzado cover on Sports Illustrated, and it was no secret that players were getting bigger and looking more athletic. Take those elements and combine them with smaller parks, improved engineering of baseballs and the proliferation of maple bats, and you have a perfect storm.
But as in the previous Black Sox Scandal of 1919, as well as the prior ravages of the Great Depression and looming World War that helped create the so-called summer of ’41, baseball was trying to find a way out of its own “dead ball period.” The sport needed a laser show and, luckily, McGwire and Sosa possessed the right amount of humility and positive showmanship to make it a community event.
Barry Bonds would have none of that.
In his defense, Barry Bonds is a timeless player. With his speed, defense and natural hitting ability, Bonds easily could have thrived in any era. If he had been born in the 1910s, he probably would be considered among those legendary players trapped in the Negro Leagues, to exist only as a statue somewhere in Kansas City with a few memorable stories told to us by Buck O’Neil. Born a few decades later, it would be easy to see Bonds competing among the other iconic outfielders glorified in the ’50s and ’60s. You get the picture.
Unfortunately, Bonds was an individual, and his own laser show in 2001 just seemed excessive. A single man celebrating a single feat everyone was already exhausted and hung over from. Yet Bonds kept on hitting and pulling in MVP votes with no humility and no other players to share it with, and from that the inquiry over steroids grew louder.
This inquiry eventually grew into a congressional hearing and then the Mitchell Report. Under looming fears of another “dead ball era,” players were trotted out. Some lied, some were quiet, and a few cried. It was a shameful spectacle further highlighted by the absence of one player.
On Wednesday, Barry Bonds finally had his day in court and was found guilty of obstruction of justice. Legally, Bonds doesn’t seem to be in any more trouble since the jury failed to reach a unanimous decision on the other counts, but this case is far from over.
I think what will eventually save Bonds’ legacy is the same thing that brought it down: the advancement of sports medicine. Eventually we will get to the point where cortisone shots are longer lasting, and less invasive procedures are done to completely heal torn muscles and rotator cuffs. When that happens, then maybe something like injecting an anabolic steroid into your backside to further muscle growth will be seen not only as unnecessary but barbaric. (Don’t you know there are pills for that!?)
Maybe it would have been better if Bonds had been born in an earlier time and became one of those ghosts we speak of instead of someone who dared to measure up.
In fact, he reminds me of another player… one who was both celebrated and derided for his individual antics, a player with a lot of talent but more famous for his dreadlocks, aloofness and the curious decision to put the number 99 on his back for a few seasons. His name is Manny Ramirez, and he was—for a good part of the last 15 years—one of the most feared right-handed hitters in baseball But that’s for the next few generations to decide.
Should steroid use automatically disqualify a player for the Hall of Fame? Surely not. Of the hitters whom we know used steroids, only one or two performed at the level of Manny Ramirez.
Performance-enhancing drugs may explain away the difference between role player and starter, between starter and star, between star and immortal.
But this is not Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro or Gary Sheffield; this is Manny Ramirez, one of the greatest right-handed hitters of all time, and while the substances he put into his body may have inflated his numbers, they cannot possibly explain away his performance altogether.
My answer is yes.
The career numbers speak for themselves regardless of the “type” of statistic you prefer to reference. Some highlights include the ninth highest career SLG percentage and OPS, 14th most career homers, 18th most RBI, 32nd highest OBP, 33rd highest offensive rWAR, 86th highest career average, etc. One can delve past the surface numbers to find even more remarkable statistics to solidify his case.
Then there is the elephant in the room. Honestly, I cannot possibly care less if a baseball player attempts to use PEDs. Did Manny use them throughout his career? His inclination to use them the last few seasons leads me to guess that yes, he probably was a juicer. Does that cause me to evaluate his statistics differently? Only a little bit. Baseball has a punishment system in place to deal with PED users, a system with which Manny fell afoul. It is baseball’s fault that the system wasn’t in place during the steroids era and I do not see it as my duty to judge players for participating in a practice that the sport subtly encouraged.
I’m sad this particular story ended this way.
There are two kinds of rules violations: (1) ways that attack of the integrity of the game, and (2) ways that attack the integrity of the individual.
Betting on baseball falls into the former category. In the case of someone like Hal Chase or the Black Sox, people are given money to NOT do their best. Thus the competition on the field is a sham, plain and simple. Historically, baseball has clamped down on this transgression far more harshly than any other misdeed. Guys found guilty of thus are banned from baseball for life and denied even the possibility of entry into Cooperstown.
In fact, a person betting on baseball for his team instead of against is held to the same punishment. Why? Any such betting means the gamblers might get his hooks into a player. End up in debt to a bookie or the mob, and a player may have to throw a game to erase the debt. Baseball has a zero tolerance policy on gambling on games for this reason, and it’s clearly stated in every major league clubhouse for that reason. There’s nothing as likely to jeopardize the integrity of the sport itself as gambling.
This is the problem I have with possibly denying Manny Ramirez, or really any possible steroid user, from the Hall. Whatever you might think of steroids, they’re taken in an attempt to play better. It’s about getting the job done. In that regard, it’s more akin to coking a bat or throwing a spitball or taking greenies. It’s an extension of commonplace cheating in baseball history.
The Hall has numerous members who did this sort of cheating, most notably Gaylord Perry, who titled his autobiography “Me and the Spitter.” The punishment for this sort of cheating? It’s simple really: You get punished in-season. An ejection and maybe a suspension. Then everyone moves on with their lives. You did the crime, and you do the time.
Ramirez should go in. His misdeeds never attacked the integrity of baseball. He wasn’t trying to lose games by taking steroids.
Manny Ramirez was a phenomenal batter, natch. He was a line drive power hitter of the first degree. He had an OPS over 1.00 in eight of ten seasons (1999 through 2008). He hit 555 home runs. He also won the Silver Slugger award and finished in the top ten in MVP voting in eight of those ten years. He wasn’t Stan Musial or Ted Williams at bat—he was a notch below—but his batting performance clearly puts him in the Hall.
Having said that, Manny does come with some baggage. He was a lousy fielder and baserunner even in his prime. Looking at his Wins Above Replacement, which takes those factors into account, he still ranks 67th among position players, tied with Hall of Famer Duke Snider (and just behind Bobby Grich, who should be in the Hall).
If you head on over to Ramirez’s page at Baseball Reference, you will spot Manny’s ranking in BRef’s Elo Rater (a fantastic tool allowing fans to rank players by presenting two choices at a time). Right now, Manny is 70th among all position players, right behind Dave Winfield and ahead of Roberto Alomar, two first-class Hall of Famers. So even if you take his negatives into account, Manny still feels like an easy choice.
Except he carries even more baggage. Yes, we can cite the PEDs and the tarnished manner in which he limped into the sunset (too many metaphors in one clause!), but those were just part of a bigger picture. From all accounts, Ramirez was not a good teammate. He loafed, he did bizarre things in the clubhouse, he didn’t support his teammates. Yes, he looked like a big harmless teddy bear, but looks can be deceiving. I wonder if Manny was kind of like Dick Allen without the angry racial overtones.
To me, those factors should be part of the equation. Voters are asked to include character in their determination, and it’s important that baseball maintain a sense of character at its core and in its stars. But they’re not enough in this case. Even with the excess baggage, I would send Manny to Cooperstown.
Manny Ramirez put up numbers that make him a Hall of Famer and that can’t be disputed. He compiled some of those numbers, at least at the end of his career, while violating a significant major league rule.
Now, you can argue that the rule didn’t really carry any type of penalty until recently. You can argue that he compiled his amazing numbers against contemporaries who also broke the same rules. You can argue that there are many players currently in the Hall of Fame who violated other, equally significant, rules. You may say some made it in throwing illegal spitballs. You may say a great many took illegal amphetamines. You may say some great players were awful people.
If any of that is true—and especially if that last sentence is true—then it sounds like Manny fits right in.
The Hall of Fame provides the following guideline for electing players: “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.” Let’s look at each of those criteria, keeping in mind that not all the categories should be weighted equally.
Ramirez obviously qualifies in the “player’s record, playing ability” section, at least on offense. Everyone knows the tremendous hitting numbers he posted, though his defense rates somewhere between mediocre and atrocious. Still, his on-field performance is clearly Hall of Fame worthy.
However, in the “integrity, sportsmanship, character” categories, Ramirez has issues. Speculation that he quit on the Red Sox at the end of the 2008 season, begged out of games with suspect injuries at various points in his career and failed the 2003 PED survey testing all cast a shadow on his candidacy, though these factors alone do not preclude him from induction in my eyes.
Failing a PED test in early 2009—several seasons after MLB implemented a formal testing program—demonstrated a willful disregard for the rules of the game. At that point I was teetering on the fence regarding his candidacy. Manny’s next big mistake was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Having been busted before, Ramirez knew well the consequences of another positive PED test, but apparently didn’t care, as he is reported to have failed another test in spring training. Rather than serve his 100-game suspension, Ramirez chose to retire, walking away from the game and a Tampa Bay team that was counting on his patience and power to help recoup some of the offense the Rays lost during the offseason.
It is this totally flagrant disregard for the rules, his teammates, the game of baseball and his legacy within it that puts Ramirez outside the Hall for me. He doesn’t care about any of those things? Fine, I don’t care to recognize his various “contributions” with induction into the Hall of Fame.
YES: Steroids are not even half the battle. Manny had some of the best plate discipline of all time. Who knows when he started using PEDs and how it affected his stats. What we do know is he is hands down one of the top 10, borderline top five, right-handed hitters of all time who would have had a career OPS over 1.000 if he had retired two years ago. He’s not as talented as Barry Bonds, but his career numbers are fearsome by any standard, even if discounted by 20 percent for PED use.
I vote yes. He was one of the best hitters of his generation. He was a flaky guy and a bad glove but extended excellence should be rewarded accordingly. At his peak, he was a nearly flawless hitter, with consistently excellent batting averages, walk rates, and power. It’s a shame his career ended the way that it did, but it doesn’t make his late 1990s/early 2000s run any less breathtaking.
As best I can tell, at this point, most of the Baseball Writers Association morally equate steroid or HGH use, not amphetamine use, with gambling on baseball or worse. I see no evidence that anabolic steroid use turns any even average baseball player into a Hall of Fame-caliber player. As Barry Bonds once said, “it’s talent, and you can’t teach talent” and you certainly can’t inject it, swallow it or smear it on with cream.
Steroid use may enable a player to heal faster and to have better workouts and keep in shape for longer than he could have without their use, so I agree that it is possible that this could elevate counting stats. I don’t consider anabolic steroid use immoral or cheating prior to its banning in the ’04 Collective Bargaining Agreement. Although Manny certainly broke the rules, he paid the penalty as stated in the CBA, and I don’t believe that breaking that particular rule should include banning from the Hall of Fame as it certainly is not equivalent to gambling on games; trying to stay IN the game is simply NOT the same as trying to throw a game.
Even as a two-dimensional player, he was still one of the 10 best right-handed hitters in the history of baseball and should be in the Hall of Fame.
I think Manny’s numbers get him in the Hall … and if Gaylord Perry is in the Hall of Fame, nobody who uses PEDs should be kept out.
Actually I think there is a bigger question: Does Manny care if he goes to the Hall of Fame? Then the answer of if he belongs is a completely different question. Frankly, I don’t think he really cares about being in the Hall of Fame. This makes his drug usage understandable. If you don’t care about your legacy, the ramifications of using doesn’t matter much.
But that doesn’t affect if he belongs in the Hall. What keeps him out of the Hall is his actions to force a trade in Boston.
He was clearly one of the best in the steroids era, and to presume he was juicing prior to being in LA is to assume facts not in evidence. I also think any voting writer who says in print that he shouldn’t go into the Hall needs to be disqualified from voting when Manny is on the ballot. If you can’t vote and maintain some element of objectivity, then you have no need to be voting. It isn’t for elected office, its for a career-crowning achievement.
Paul Francis Sullivan
I personally would vote for him. But that is because I am a Red Sox fan and I also have the twisted logic that if everyone was juicing, then he was better than most. However, he will never be elected because of the two strikes against him.
It seems almost assured that Manny won’t get in via the writers’ voting, if at all, but he’s certainly deserving.
I don’t cafe if he juiced in an era where it seems a majority was doing the exact same, not even necessarily to get an edge, but to keep an even playing field. That seems odd to say and yet it’s absolutely true. I don’t care if he’s apathetic about his making it or not making it, either.
The Hall has always been about enshrining the game’s best players. The integrity mentioned in its voting practices seems completely out of place and thrown in.
Manny is one of baseball’s best right-handed hitters of all time. He deserves to get in despite his myriad shenanigans.
On the basis of on-field achievement, Manny is a slam-dunk “yes” for the Hall of Fame. And his being outed as a PED user per se shouldn’t disqualify him, as it’s a fool’s errand to try to distinguish who has ever used what and how much that “enhanced” their performance. But Manny’s not once but twice failing a drug test during the testing/penalty era gives me pause: My bottom line is “yes,” but not as emphatically as it would be otherwise.
Manny should go into the Hall of Fame right after Mark McGwire.